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November 07, 2021 8 min read

The spectacular barbell snatch can be used to build impressive body size and strength. The barbell snatch takes a great deal of strength, timing, skill, and speed, so it is one of the hardest exercises for anybody to learn.

A barbell snatch is a technical and multifaceted exercise that has become part of the  Marine workout routine

Even some Olympic weightlifters spend their entire strength training career mastering just two movements, which are the clean and jerk and the barbell snatch.

Doing the Barbell Snatch

To do the barbell snatch, you need to lift a loaded barbell from the floor and use your hips to bring the bar overhead as you squat underneath it.

In this article, we will go over the proper snatch technique and also offer some alternatives, variations, and recommendations for training.


Below, we break it down into five steps to help simplify this power-building movement. 

1. Get Ready, Get Set 

Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart in a start position. Grab the bar in with your hands set far wider than hip-width. Lower your hips until your shins touch the bar. Your back should be flat and your arms fully extended with your chest puffed out. Your shoulders should be above the bar, and your knees in line with your elbows. You should feel pressure in the toes and your quads. 

2. Pull the Bar

Stand up explosively and deadlift the bar to your hip crease. Stand up with as much force as possible, and do not reduce any of your momentum of this first pull once the bar hits your hips. Try to keep your chest up the entire time.

3. Turn the Bar Over

This is where you are going to transfer that momentum into the second pull of the snatch. Continue to pull the bar up to your torso, leading the pull with your elbows, as if you are doing an upright row. As the bar ascends your torso, quickly jump your feet inward and drop into a squat position.

As you drop into a front squat, extend your arms fully overhead. Because this is the most complicated portion of the snatch, practice the movement with a PVC pipe and then an unloaded barbell before using heavier weights. Practice dumbbell snatches, too, to get used to the movement mechanics of this phase.

4. Catch the Bar Overhead

Your objective here is to stabilize the load overhead. Once your elbows are locked out, and you feel balanced, stand up in an overhead squat position. The more aggressive and forceful you are during steps two and three, the easier this position will be to master.

5. Reach and Stand Up

Do not rush to stand up. Rising quickly out of the squat may not seem like a big deal with a light weight of about 100 pounds, but as you progress to heavier weights, rushing can cause high levels of instability. Practice good snatch habits even with just a barbell. Push upwards through the barbell to give you a strong and stable recovery from the squat. 

The Benefits of the Snatch 

Like all exercises in the gym, the barbell snatch offers you so many benefits when you do it regularly and with the proper form. The snatch is one of the two movements judged in competitive weightlifting, so mastering this exercise is vital if you plan to compete as a weightlifter. Below are two tangible benefits that you’ll experience when you make the snatch part of your training program.

More Force and Better Production

Force is trained by moving a load quickly and efficiently. Making this movement part of your workout routine will help you produce more power over time, which helps you sprint faster and jump higher. The snatch is a hip dominant movement, and the hips are directly involved in jumping and running.

More Motor Unit Recruitment and Kinetic Chain Synchronization 

The kinetic chain is a combination of several successively arranged joints that make up a complex motor unit. Many sports encourage a strong kinetic chain, but the wave of contraction needed for the snatch is unparalleled in how much it accomplishes in such a single movement. It has to do with neural recruitment and the central nervous system. When you become good at the snatch, you can move through more ranges of motion with less effort and less fatigue of the central nervous system. 

Muscles Worked by the Snatch 

The main muscles you can expect to be worked by this exercise include the quads, hamstrings, and glutes (lower body), the shoulders and the triceps (upper body), the upper, middle, and lower back, and also the scapular stabilizers. We’ll look at each of these groups briefly. The lower body as a whole is trained extensively in terms of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Your legs are used a great deal to absorb the heavy load as you move under the bar and then extend your knees and hips during the standing phase. Many lifters feel an incredible burn in their legs after completing a session of barbell snatches. In terms of the upper body, your shoulder muscles work to pull the bar up, and then the triceps engage heavily as your arms extend overhead.

The back muscles work during the pulling phase of the snatch and help stabilize the bar overhead. The scapular stabilizers and posterior shoulder muscles work together to improve shoulder stability. Increased scapular stabilization reduces excessive strain that might be felt on the elbows, wrists, and shoulder capsules. 

Who Should Do the Snatch? 

Of course, anybody can benefit from doing barbell snatches, but they are especially good for some types of lifters. These include strength and power athletes, Olympic weightlifters, and general fitness athletes. Strength and power athletes can benefit from this exercise, but it is not optimal for them. There are plenty of other movements these specific athletes should rather focus on, such as the  deadlift or general squat movement.

However, because the snatch can really improve power output and mobility, it can sometimes be useful for these athletes. When it comes to Olympic weightlifters, the barbell snatch is on the actual competition list, so it’s not just suggested to do these exercises. It is absolutely necessary for those who need to do Olympic lifts to master this movement. 

Fitness athletes such as CrossFitters should learn the snatch since they are sometimes featured in competitions. For everyone else, the snatch should not be a high training priority. It is tough to learn and requires a lot of skill. If you want to get strong or build more muscle, you will be better off targeting specific muscles with particular movements. 

Some Barbell Snatch Alternatives 

Below are three barbell snatch alternatives that offer similar muscle development and performance benefits.

    1. Dumbbell Snatch: This requires less technique, mobility, and less skill than the barbell snatch, so it can be a suitable option for beginners.

    More advanced lifters can use this exercise to warm up before barbell snatches or do it with high reps to improve conditioning.

    2. Kettlebell Snatch: This reinforces proper hip extension and power output of the muscle groups that are used in the snatch (such as the hamstrings and glutes). This movement is also ballistic, which means it requires high levels of core stability, proprioception, and overall balance.

    3. Jump Squat: This can increase the rate of force development for greater power output. It brings about adaptations within the motor neurons, which creates faster and more powerful outputs. This is a good exercise for lifters and athletes who don’t have the time to develop the proper snatch technique. 

      Sets and Reps Recommendations

      So if you do decide to embark on a journey with the barbell snatch, here are three different ways to program the movement into your workout.

      The first way to master the snatch is to practice the technique over and over again. To do so, start with a PVC pipe or unloaded barbell as a light weight and do three to five sets of two to three reps.

      You can use about 50 percent of your one-rep max. When you are just getting started, it is better not to use any weight at all. Practice your snatch technique with just a PVC pipe. Then, progress to an empty barbell, and then slowly add weight.

      The second way to master the snatch is to improve your power output. Start the movement by performing two to four sets of two to three reps using 60-75 percent of your 1RM.

      This may seem like a very limited amount of effort, but you will be progressing soon enough. The third way to master the snatch is to increase your max.

      When you are training for maximal strength and heavy snatches, you can try training at 80 percent or more of their 1RM. Start by performing four to eight sets of one to two reps.

      For sets and reps in general, start with these guidelines. To improve your technique, do three to five sets of two to three reps. You can use around 50 percent of your one-rep max. For more power, do two to three reps using 60-75 percent of your 1RM. For more strength, do four to eight sets of one to two reps with 80 percent of your 1RM.

      Barbell Snatch Variations 

      The power snatch is performed in a partial overhead squat. Without the option of catching in a full squat, this is an exercise for Crossfit athletes, who must pull the bar high and focus on a quick change of direction. It is critical to aim for complete hip and knee extension followed by a fast turnover of the bar. In addition, the five snatch variations below can improve your form throughout all of the different phases of the snatch. 

      • Tall Snatch: This movement develops the upper body muscles used in the turnover position of the snatch. It can also help a lifter build confidence, speed, and aggression in the turnover phases of the pull. 
      • Muscle Snatch: This increases your strength during the turnover phase. It is also an effective way of teaching new lifters how to maintain a proper bar path. It is similar to the standard snatch, except you stand up and turn the bar over while standing up. Be sure not to drop into a squat.
      • Block Snatch: This has the lifter perform a standard snatch, but with the barbell resting on elevated blocks. Starting the pull higher off the ground allows the lifter to do two things: use more weight to overload the top portion of the snatch, and perform the snatch more aggressively to increase power output. 
      • Hang Snatch: This is identical in function to the block snatch but with one key difference. The lifter loads their hamstrings before the pull in order to develop the stretch-shortening cycle of those muscles.
      • Deficit Snatch: This is done the same as a full snatch except by using a pair of bumper plates. The snatch is done in an extended range of motion, which can improve your strength off of the floor and use more of the leg muscles. 

      A Note of Caution

      This exercise is not recommended for people with back problems. If you have a healthy back, always practice the proper form as described in this article and never slouch your back forward because this can almost certainly lead to serious back injuries. Be cautious with the weight that you select at the beginning. Rather start out by using less weight than more.

      Never hyperextend your lower back when doing barbell snatches.

      This can put too much strain on your back and your lower body, which can sometimes lead to  back pain and all kinds of serious injuries.

      Like many exercises that require you to lift heavy weights, barbell snatches come with a risk of injury to your back or to your shoulders.

      Always warm up for a long time before you start doing these advanced exercises and make sure to read this entire article to learn the proper form for doing barbell snatches before you actually start attempting them.

      Barbell snatches are difficult when you are just getting started.

      Keeping your upper body in an extended position (like this exercise requires) for a length of time can increase your overall body strength and your range of motion. It can also improve the strength of your middle back and your lower lats.